The dread, the whips, the jeers, the cross, the nails:
That much sufficed to counter Adam’s curse.
What horror in the tips of Pilate’s flails
When countless nameless peasants had it worse?
For this is Christ as God made Man esteemed,
And preached by saints, by joyful martyrs praised.
Why not then be a thousand times redeemed,
Once each for every cross the Romans raised?

One must imagine in those last three hours,
Each anguish, lapse, betrayal, brother slain
He felt not with our panicked mental powers,
but perfectly, with sorrow worse than pain.
 At last, a thought to crush the heart like wax:
 Christ crucified with nothing but the facts.

“So what do you do?”

“I bounced around a bit after college, but now I’m the COO of a small non-profit focused on health, education and welfare for gifted youth.”

“That sounds really demanding!”

“Well, every job has its ups and downs, but on the whole I find it very rewarding.  And of course I love our target demographic.”

“Do you have a lot of accountability to the board?”

“No I’ve pretty much got free rein as long as I make budget.  And my partner focuses on fundraising, which frees me up to pursue my vision.  I call him "the passive income stream”.  It’s a little joke we have, you see.  Ha ha.“

"Sounds like a pretty sweet gig, then.  Are you ever worried about job security?”

“Oh, my partner and I have a special legal arrangement about that.  When we founded the partnership we both agreed that I’d have tenure for life.”

“Wait, what?”


Across time and cultures, the Unknown is represented mythologically as a watery underworld, and is personified by a feminine principle of ambivalent affect. New, anomalous information can be either promising or threatening, thus Mother Nature is both potentially creative and potentially destructive. When the anomalous information provides a sufficient challenge to our existing mental models we experience a descent into the watery underworld, during which we incorporate the anomaly, revise the existing cognitive schemata, transcend the challenge of chaos, and rise again in resurrection. Or we drown.

The remarkable persistence of this meta-motif within cultures isolated from each other by space and time suggests that it is somehow baked into our brains.  Aesthetic representations of the unknown that conform to this archetypal pattern are memorable, arresting and even transfixing.  They tend to “just work” even if neither artist nor audience have ever heard of the subject of comparative mythology, and could not rationally articulate a reason that the representation should prove so compelling.  Conversely, representations that do not conform to this archetypal pattern will tend to fall flat. This is true even if such images are constructed on the basis of explicit and rationally plausible theories about the general structure of human mentality and interests.

So to review, the Unknown is the source of new and anomalous information, a watery underworld associated with a feminine figure of nature having ambivalent affect, both promising and threatening.



La Vérité sortant du puits armée de son martinet pour châtier l'humanité(English:Truth coming from the well armed with her whip to chastise mankind) is an 1896 painting by the French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme.

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